The Concrete Truth about Boating Access Improvements
It begins with a “need.” Sometimes “wants.” But many times, the “need” trumps the “wants,” which is the case for Cedaroak, managed by the City of West Linn. This site is a perfect example of why “build it and they will come” isn’t like the movies. Surveying, planning, design concepts, environmental opinions, funding, permitting, natural processes, and many other variables need to align in just the right order for a boating facility to be improved.
In 2005, the City applied for, and was awarded a grant for maintenance dredging of the boat basin area. For background about the site, the Cedaroak boat ramp is just downstream and behind Cedar Oak Island, which for most of the year, provides protection from the river current and debris. But with the protection comes an unwanted side-effect: sediment accumulation. As the water sweeps and eddies behind the island, the water velocities slow and the sediment drops out of the water column, creating a buildup that just-so-happens to occur right near the boat ramp. This makes launching, especially during low water years or low tide, nearly impossible and is also a potential safety issue if boaters are unable to retrieve their boats and wind up becoming stranded in the river.
The Marine Board approved a grant to dredge the sentiment in 2005-2007biennium and the City applied for the required permits in 2005, but didn’t receive them until 2007, just before the Marine Board grant expired.
THE BIG PICTURE
Dredging is a known money pit and usually a never-ending issue, so the Marine Board rarely approves grants for dredging due to the recurrent nature of sedimentation in certain areas and encourages boating facility owners to look for alternative designs to reduce sediment accumulation. Cedaroak is unique because it is the only boat ramp on the west side of the river between Willamette Falls and Portland’s Willamette Park, which is 8.4 river miles away. It’s also the second most popular launch site in Clackamas County and accommodates all types of boaters, including fishing boats, wakeboarders, personal watercraft, and paddlecraft. The Board had to consider the high use, lack of nearby launches on the west side, and other factors in making a decision on whether or not to continue investing boater dollars for dredging. The Board approved a grant to dredge as an interim measure while the City explored the City a long term solution to this perennially consistent (and costly) sedimentation problem.
The dredging project was completed and in 2008, on par with the Board’s interest in seeking a better solution, the City requested assistance to complete a hydrologic analysis of the existing launch ramp to help determine if redesigning the ramp or relocating the ramp within the park property would minimize the need to dredge in the future. Part of the plan also included developing a conceptual design for a new boat ramp.
When the hydrologic analysis and conceptual design were complete in 2009, it identified that the boat ramp could be designed to reduce sediment accumulation by replacing and extending the ramp approximately 143 feet further into the river. The Marine Board coordinated with the City to come up with a viable game plan to replace the boat ramp. As mentioned earlier, “many variables need to align in just the right order”. Armed with the consultant’s hydrologic analysis and conceptual design, the City, Marine Board and Consultant identified who they needed to get permits and approvals from. The list turned out to be quite extensive. And as any construction person can tell you, getting permits is not only expensive, but the process takes a long time! Cedaroak was actually fortunate compared to the typical boat ramp, where the average is 16 state, federal and local agencies review and provide comments as part of a permit application. This doesn’t include additional comments from interested parties such as the public, Audubon Society or Willamette Riverkeeper.
PERMIT AND CONSULTATION LIST FOR CEDAROAK
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers -Permit
- Oregon Department of State Lands -Permit
- Building -Permit
- Willamette River Greenway -Permit
- Planning Department Land Use –Permit
- Oregon Department of Environmental Quality 401 Water Quality Certification
- FEMA No rise Certification
- State Historic Preservation Office
- National Historic Preservation Act Review
- Tribal Consultation
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Endangered Species -Consultation
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Essential Fish Habitat –Consultation
- Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
HICCUPS AND ROAD-BLOCKS
The permit process started immediately after the hydrologic analysis report was completed in August of 2010, and would take nearly three years, due in part, by endangered species consultation requirements for the Corps of Engineers (COE) and Department of State Lands (DSL) permits. The City received a permit from DSL in 2011, but due to delays with the Corps of Engineers permit process, DSL’s permit would have to be extended five times. The City applied for a grant from the Marine Board in 2011, but the application was deferred until all of the required permits were received. All it takes is one party disagreeing or concerned with any portion of the permit application, or being on vacation, or a change of staff, for an entire permit to fall by the wayside. It’s a delicate dance with a lot of changing steps.
The City re-applied and was awarded a grant in 2013 but had to withdraw the grant since permits were not issued and modified to allow for drilling multiple test holes and didn’t leave enough time within the Marine Board’s biennial budget to complete construction. The City was also coordinating the separate planning department permitting process which requires a pre-application, but it is only valid for 18 months which resulted in the process being repeated as a result of the Corps permit delays.
Some questions readers may be asking at this point is why did the City need to get five permits, two certificates and numerous consultations from fourteen different agencies and why did it take so long to issue them, knowing that each year that passes the siltation would get worse? The answer partly lies in the interests that each agency serves to protect. For example, NOAA’s role was to provide a biological opinion on the impact to endangered species and habitat. SHPO, Corps Archeologist and Tribal consultation were analyzing any impacts to cultural and historic properties. For each permitting agency, justification and clarifications were continually being required of the City and with each question or clarification, more time being added to actually getting the permits issued. It’s a race at a snail’s pace.
ADDITIONAL PUBLIC COMMENTS
Public comments are also carefully considered when a facility is getting a makeover. The City hosted a meeting to collect public comments as part of the planning process. In addition, the US Army Corps of Engineers and Department of State Lands also solicited comments on the permit application for the project. Some of the concerns that came up during the public meeting included:
- Navigability between the docks and the island and side channel if the docks were located on the outside of the ramp lanes.
- Congestion between the island and docks if the docks are located on the outside of the ramp lanes.
- The need for non-motorized access
- Parking congestion
- Sediment transport changes
- Could the docks be increased from the statewide standard of 6-feet wide to 8-feet wide
A common theme was about the proposed design and moving to a single dock configuration from two, and not making the dock wider. Ultimately, it was decided to go with the statewide standard to reduce shading impacts for endangered species, the increased cost of having two docks, more piling and to meet statewide recreational boating facility design standards. The single lane of 6-foot dock configuration is a standard design in Oregon as well as nationally. It can be found at many facilities including the Hammond Boat Basin which during buoy 10 fishery, successfully launches up to 800 boats a day, or nearby Sportcraft Landing and Meldrum Bar. A carry down launch was also incorporated into the new boat ramp design and will deflect congestion at the ramp, which will hopefully minimize any conflict during launching and retrieving.
LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL –THE PIECES COME TOGETHER
Finally, by 2015 all the necessary permits were in hand and the City re-applied again for a grant from the Marine Board for $200,000. The City also received a huge grant from the Sport Fish Restoration Fund for $900,000 from ODFW and US Fish and Wildlife Service. The City kicked in $204,769 and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife contributed $300,000 in Restoration and Enhancement funds for a project total of $1,604,769.
WHERE THE RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD
By now, eight years’ worth of planning, permitting and design work finally came together. The construction workbegan in mid-August, 2016.
As the designs morphed from paper into the real world, the facility will have a new two-lane concrete boat ramp, new docks, new piles, new carry-down trail and lots and lots of habitat plantings and riparian enhancements to reduce erosion and benefit endangered species.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Even with the best planning, the timeline is somewhat fluid based on dock fabrication, weather, or other contractor/material delivery conflicts, but the goal of having the facility completed in the early fall was still a moving target.
The first thing that happened was removing the asphalt, clearing the land, and removing of the docks. The old ramp was demolished and the piles were removed. By the end of August, the new structure took shape, including the new ramp build-out, construction of a new infiltration swale, new piles, rail installation, and the new parking lot and ramp subgrade.
A lot of time and planning went into this facility. By taking the time and investing in this new facility design, the City of West Linn will reduced maintenance costs over the long haul because there will be less sedimentation to deal with and dredging will (hopefully) be a thing of the past. Cedaroak will no longer be a money pit and source of frustration for boaters trying to launch. The new ramp will have improved traction, there will be less fear about “getting stuck in the muck” and non-motorized boat traffic being deflected to a different area to the side of the main ramp.
The bottom line is that dredging is not a viable long term solution to silting, waterway managers need to plan on as many variables as possible when submitting a permit application, and to expect many bumps in the long road. Cedaroak needed a new ramp design. The facility also needed to meet the needs of boaters and comply with the permit agencies that protect navigability, the environment and sensitive species.
The truth is, any boating facility improvement takes a long time. Not all of the “wants” or desires will happen. But what’s proven time and time again is every facility improvement is worth the effort. Cedaroak will provide fantastic access for recreational boaters for decades, without a launching and retrieving hassle.
ABOUT THE MARINE BOARD
The Marine Board is funded by registration fees and marine fuel taxes paid by motorboaters. No general fund tax dollars are used to support the agency or its programs. Eight-six percent of boater-paid fees go back to boaters in the form of services (on-the-water enforcement, training and equipment), education/outreach materials and boating access facility grants to public waterway access managers.